What Prince Said About the Meaning of ‘Purple Rain’

Prince was a musician who produced too many masterpieces to count. Although he made numerous great albums, Purple Rain might stand as his most important album. The album’s title song stands as one of the most acclaimed album closers in the history of music.

Some Prince songs are easy to interpret. “Purple Rain” is a little more oblique, which is what gives it some of its mystique. This raises an interesting question: What are the lyrics of the song actually about?

Prince performing on stage with his guitar | Richard E. Aaron/Redferns

The surprising color symbolism in ‘Purple Rain’

Some lyrics of “Purple Rain” appear to address a former lover, such as “I never wanted to be your weekend lover/I only wanted to be some kind of friend.” Prince sings parts of the song as if he’s going to break into tears. Because of this, some fans interpret the track as a lament of the breakdown of a romantic relationship.

However, that interpretation doesn’t really explain the song. Some of the track’s lyrics don’t appear to have anything to do with romance. After all, what exactly does purple rain symbolize? Why would you want to see someone “dancing in the purple rain?”

“Purple Rain” by Prince

Prince felt the color purple symbolized the end of the world. To him, the song “Purple Rain” was about finding divine guidance during Armageddon. According to NME, he said “When there’s blood in the sky – red and blue = purple… purple rain pertains to the end of the world and being with the one you love and letting your faith/god guide you through the purple rain.” Prince would say the apocalyptic connotations of the color purple made it his favorite color.

The apocalypse was on Prince’s mind in the 1980s. According to Alan Light of Spin, these themes became more prominent because of the decade’s arms race. The lyrics to “1999” are also about Armageddon. Prince said “1999” was designed to give people hope at the end of the world.

Lisa Coleman’s interpretation of the song

Wendy Melvoin, Prince, and Lisa Coleman onstage | Bettmann

Of course, Prince was not the only artist behind the song. Lisa Coleman created the song’s string arrangement. Coleman said the two words in the title of the song symbolized different concepts. Coleman told People the song’s title signifies “a new beginning. Purple, the sky at dawn; rain, the cleansing factor.”

Coleman connected the title “Purple Rain” to the artistic renewal Prince had by learning to work with others on the album of the same name. Coleman said Prince got his start composing songs alone but eventually allowed other musicians to work with him. “Purple Rain” was the first song Prince wrote alongside the members of his band.

Prince said “Purple Rain” is about the apocalypse while Coleman said the song is about renewal. These two interpretations are not mutually exclusive. Some Christian groups consider the end of the world to be a new beginning for humanity where God rewards the just and cleanses evil from the world. Prince was raised a Seventh-day Adventist, so it’s always possible that Adventist ideas about the end times influenced the writing of “Purple Rain.” Regardless of the song’s meaning, its lyrical ambiguities have helped it endure as a classic.

Also see: Prince: Why He Refused to Perform on ‘We Are the World’